In the past few years, my partner has had to stay in the hospital twice, and both times, I stayed with them. The first time was a complete surprise—what started out as an ER visit turned into a week’s stay at the hospital. The second time was a scheduled surgery, so we had time to pack… which we did mostly for them, because I forgot me. I think I remembered my toothbrush.
They have one more surgery coming up which will, hopefully, be the last one. There’s plenty of advice on how to pack for them, but this time, I’m determined to get it right and pack sensibly for my own stay. You may never have to stay in a hospital room with a loved one. Some sites I’ve seen advise against it, suggesting you get a hotel room or stay at your own home, but that may not always be practical or desirable. So, here’s some advice that you will hopefully never have to use.
You’re stressed, and obviously, vanity is not high on your list of concerns at the moment… which is why it might be easy to forget essentials.
If you’re given advance warning, you’ll probably remember a toothbrush, deodorant, maybe a comb. But it may be a while before you get to take a shower. Baby wipes are great to just clean yourself up a little, and dry shampoo is helpful to keep grease at bay.
Hospitals are also not built with skin in mind, which is fine, but might cause some irritation. I’d recommend some disposable face wipes—the first hospital stay, I wound up with the worst pimple of my life because I just wasn’t able to wash my poor face. Also indispensable, for me, are lotion and lip balm—hospitals are kept pretty dry, putting me in the unique position of having very pimply yet extremely dry and itchy skin.
Also, if you menstruate, don’t forget supplies, whether that’s pads, a reusable cup, or period-absorbing underwear. Even if you aren’t currently menstruating. Periods like to magically appear at the exact moment it’s least convenient for everyone.
The first hospital stay, I didn’t even pack a change of socks; the second time, I packed pajamas but forgot a change of day clothes—and what’s worse, we had to stay two extra days. Luckily for me, my partner has another partner, and he prefers to have errands to run in a crisis so he can feel like he’s doing something. (That said, I’m not the most organized person, which left me saying things like, “Hey, can you get my sweatpants? They’re…probably next to my bed on the floor. Oh, and some socks. If you can find any. Try the dryer?” Amazingly, he usually found whatever I needed.) Still, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t have another person handy to fetch your forgetful ass some new jeans, so remember at least one change of clothes, and probably two changes of underwear and socks.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but when choosing clothes, try to aim for comfort. You’re going to be hanging around in a chair, and sometimes getting up to unplug IVs so your loved one can go pee. You may have a favorite cute shirt that makes you feel happy to wear, and that’s valid as hell, too. And you may be someone who copes with stress by dressing extremely well. Go for it, but just remember: you’re not going to get to go home to throw your bra on the floor for a while.
Also, hospitals are usually freezing, so bring a sweater even if it’s 107 and humid out.
Obviously, bring any regular meds you need—anti-depressants, birth control, whatever else you take daily. But may also find it helpful to have a stash of over-the-counter medication with you. In my hospital stays, I used an anti-diarrheal at least once, since I was living off of fast food and hospital cafeteria food. I also found that whatever cleaner they use in hospitals gives me some awful allergies, so an OTC allergy medication kept me from dripping snot all over my beloved while they were waking up after anesthesia.
It should go without saying, but: don’t give your loved one any of your from-home medication. If they have a complaint, they should tell the nurse.
Obviously, you’re there for moral support, but your loved one is probably going to be spending a lot of time sleeping. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be too stressed and anxious (or physically uncomfortable) to sleep. Luckily, most humans these days carry around a convenient entertainment device, full of books, games, and TV shows.
Don’t forget your phone charger and a cable for it. I personally play a lot of match-three games when I’m anywhere near a hospital, and those eat battery like I eat a bag of Cheez-Its: quickly and mercilessly.
Also, consider bringing along a physical book or magazine, just to give your eyes a break from your phone.
Entertainment can also help you to keep your loved one company—the first hospital trip, I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman to them in the ICU until they fell asleep, and the second one, when they were a little more able to participate, we looked at recipes in Food Network Magazine that they wanted me to make when they were recovering at home.
If you’re planning to sleep at the hospital, bring a pillow. The first hospital stay with my partner had me stuck in some hard plastic chairs most of the time—not great for sleeping, but marginally better when I had a pillow so I could lean more comfortably on the wall.
Make sure you have some small cash on hand. Restaurants and the on-campus cafeteria have hours, but vending machines usually don’t, and you may need a midnight bag of Cheez-Its.